Why Do Employees Follow Leaders?

Project Team: Dr. Robert Neilson, Roberto Carlo Ruiz‑Morales, Matthew Weber

Employees are motivated by self-interest for now, but they envision the company mission will have the most influence in five years.

Project Team: Dr. Robert Neilson, Roberto Carlo Ruiz‑Morales, Matthew Weber
MATTHEW WEBER
MATTHEW WEBER

Every week I have the pleasure to talk to Dr. Robert Neilson, who was an academic in the US Army specializing in knowledge management. The US Army is one of the biggest practitioners of knowledge management in the world, so Robert’s role was pretty significant – he put together their official knowledge management strategy.

On this particular day, I suggested starting a new project, “Robert, what would you like to research? Anything you like, I’ll pull together the resources for it.”

DR. ROBERT NEILSON
DR. ROBERT NEILSON

Power.” said Robert. “I want to investigate how social media is affecting the power structures of corporate America. I suspect that social media is democratizing the knowledge transfer within organizations, making it so that the most connected are the ones who are wielding the most power.”

ROBERTO CARLO RUIZ-MORALES
ROBERTO CARLO RUIZ-MORALES

And with that, we started one of our inaugural research pieces for worki.ng. I brought Roberto Carlo Ruiz Morales, a phenomenal researcher and ux/product designer, into the project to kick off our initial survey.

The Survey

For our opening salvo, we did a small survey (just 100 participants) to investigate what motivates employees to follow leaders. This stems from the idea that power is granted to leaders from their followers, so we want to understand the dynamic of motivation for employees. In future articles, we’ll be investigating if gaining followers within the enterprise via social networks effects gaining broader power.

Of the 100 participants, we asked them to rank several responses to the questions “Why do you follow a leader now?” and “Why do you think you’ll follow a leader in five years?” We asked employees about their ideas for the future, as a proxy to understand their own internal strategy within the company, that is, how can leadership exemplify long-term success?

Survey Results

The results are interesting. For the short term, employees have a “what’s in it for me” mentality, where they are most willing to follow a leader who demonstrates their ability to show compassion and help develop the employees goals. For the long term, employees envision that in five years they will follow a leader who they agree with, and has data to back up their vision. In the future, their self-interest is tied to the proven viability of the company.

What motivates employees to follow leaders?

You can download a CSV file of the raw data too.

Takeaways FOR LEADERS

  1. Leaders should be crystal clear about employees effects on the long-term mission. Employees need to understand how their efforts will move the needle. Employees are invested in the company as well, and the better employees understand that, the more invested they will be.
  2. Leaders should prove their case with data. In the long-term, the importance of charisma and duty drops off, and employees want to see proof. We’re seeing that employees expectations for data are on the rise, and its a way for them to understand your conclusions.

 

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